RaabTheSaab New Reader
8/30/22 11:38 a.m.

As much as I try to avoid "make-a-choice-for-me" threads, I find myself in need of some input. Since my partner and I have both found more favorable working schedules, we're finding ourselves with more time to do the things we like to do--namely camping, traveling, and road tripping. Early this summer we took a road trip (20 days) through the southwest visiting national parks and generally enjoying the vibe. This was all done in my DD, a 180,000 mile '04 Highlander which did phenomenally well and didn't miss a beat (admittedly, I was nervous about taking a 20 year old trucklette with nearly 200k on the clock on a 8k mile road trip, but hey...it worked). However, we found that setting up camp every night and breaking it down a night or two later became tiresome fast. This led to us having discussions about what our next road trip vehicle should be. My thoughts skew minivan, hers full size SUV. Our family size is just me, her, and our 35 pound pitbull mix. 

My vague requirements are as follows: 

* Relatively spacious and reconfigurable (i.e. the back could be used for storage or sleeping)

* Ability to tow a small landscaping-type trailer with maybe 500lbs of gear on it

* Decent gas mileage (I don't need 50+, but I'd like to avoid 8)

* A comfortable, controlled ride for long 11+ hour days on the road 

* Purchase price <10k (but, really, as cheap as possible while still remaining reliable and not turning into a project) 


Initial thoughts: 

2011+ Grand Caravan. I'm not a fan of Chrysler products overall, but I hear pretty good things about the last iteration of the GC. I rented a '21 Wrangler last August to do some four-wheeling through the northwest and found the Pentastar mated to the Torque-flight a nice combo. Not sure how this translates into front-wheel drive minivan world. 

*Pros: THE quintessential minivan, stow and go seating, infinitely reconfigurable 

*Cons: It's a Chrysler, the interior seems cheap and dated, not sure about long-term road manners. 


3rd ('05+) or 4th ('11+) generation Odyssey. I've driven Hondas for years and generally like them. I hear the Odyssey is a different beast, though with so-so reliability and potential for transmission problems (but fixed in '07/'08 with the Ridgeline transmission). 

*Pros: It's a Honda, ride quality is probably better than the GC, interior is a decent place to spend time, there's literally dozens of them for sale at any given time

*Cons: Potential transmission problems, engine bay is cramped and hard to work in


2nd ('03+) or 3rd ('10+) Sienna. This has more or less the same engine and drivetrain configuration as contemporary Camrys or Highlanders. However, they seem to suffer the most from the Toyota tax making them the most expensive compared to the two contestants listed above. 

*Pros: Basically a Camry with a boxy body, available with AWD,  decent--if spartan--interior

*Cons: Toyota tax


Full size SUV contestants are likely any of the GMT 800s or 1st gen Seqouias which I've a decent amount of experience with and find them perfectly acceptable. 

1988RedT2 MegaDork
8/30/22 1:38 p.m.

Even having owned either the MPV or the CX-9 at the time, we've more than once rented a Sienna for vacation travel.  The Sienna is a lovely bus that swallows an amazing amount of gear.  And the new hybrid Sienna gets gas mileage that makes my head explode.  

John Welsh
John Welsh Mod Squad
8/30/22 1:56 p.m.

Camp set up and break down seem to be the thing you are avoiding.  Sleeping in a minivan will still require lots of set-up/break-down.  It might just save you from setting up the tent itself but you'll need to reconfig the interior often making room for adding possible items in around your sleeping area.  

Also know that if sleeping in the minivan, it offers very little ventilation when the doors are closed.  On the Mopar vans, be mindful that only on the upper trim models do the rear. sliding door glass actually roll down.  In lesser models that glass is stationary.  


I like out 2019 Mopar Grand Caravan.  I detailed a trip in this thread.  Notably, it got 27 mpg hyw.  But I should also point out that my wife DDs the car and she only works 2 miles from home.  She is notorious for short/short drives.  Upon getting into the car after she drives it (likely with lots of idling) I have seen the screen read as low as 15 mpg with 18 mpg being common.  


Here as an old writing that details a spotters guide to Mopar van trims.  Specifically, see the last posting on page #1, here


Another note is that though the Stow&Go of the Mopar vans is great, for camping inside, it doesn't create a floor flat enough for sleeping.  Though it is generally flat, its not "comfortable flat" what with some slight ripples for mounting attachment points, etc.  I found that a piece of plywood down fixed the "flatness" issues.  
Another thought, is Mopar made a cargo version, and it does have a flat floor but comes with just two seats.  In some years called the Caravan C/V (cargo van) and other years called the Ram C/V

It was offered in various configs of no windows, some windows and all windows. 



AMiataCalledSteve Reader
8/30/22 1:57 p.m.

My family had an '06 Sienna for the longest time, we took it on road trips all over the country several times. It never missed a beat, and now it's serving it's golden years as my brother's kid-mobile. No rest for the weary I suppose haha. Anyway, great vans. I'm of the opinion that very few things are better than a minivan on long road trips - they're just so comfortable, easy to drive, get decent mileage, etc.

Apocryphally, I've heard the AWD Siennas are prone to rear diff leaks and other problems, so unless you really need it I'd probably stick with a regular van.

John Welsh
John Welsh Mod Squad
8/30/22 2:02 p.m.

In reply to RaabTheSaab :

A gut reaction of mine is to stay with the Highlander but upgrade your camping gear.  Somehow, gear that sets-up/down easier.  

Is a trailer an option?  Even if that is teardrop or a trailer that contains a fold out tent/system?  The Highlander can pull it.  

Captdownshift (Forum Supporter)
Captdownshift (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
8/30/22 3:06 p.m.

Honda Element 

John Welsh
John Welsh Mod Squad
8/30/22 3:35 p.m.

Interesting videos that claim 5ft, 5in platform in this Highlander and then front seats moved forward to create more space/length.  



twowheeled Reader
8/30/22 4:33 p.m.

our kia sedona has been trouble free and was ~3k for a 2009. It gets around 23mpg on the highway. There is no other type of vehicle I would choose for that type of trip. You can get a hitch mounted basket and free up enormous interior space. 

Duke MegaDork
8/30/22 4:33 p.m.

We sold my niece and nephew our 2000 GC when it got mildly wrecked. They fixed the damage and promptly put 50,000 miles on it driving many places from the wilds of Nova Scotia to West Texas.  Much of it with a large ish dog, and lots of it on gravel roads.

They camped in it all the time.  They are not small people.  They deleted the rear seats and built a low platform to sleep on, with slide-in storage underneath. You could easily access it from back or side doors.

The Caravan took it like a champ.

If you go with the last generation GC, try to get one 2012 or newer. They all have the bigger front brakes, as far as I understand.


KyAllroad MegaDork
8/30/22 4:56 p.m.

I like Dukes suggestion of the platform in a van (my Grandfather had a 70 van with a carpeted rear section that he hauled us all to ski trips in).

I'd suggest you load whatever you consider up with a bit of weight and see how it feels on the highway.  My brother had a 2014 T&C and I HATE the transmission on road trips.   Cruise control set to perfectly reasonable 80 mph and it downshifts for nearly every hill.   A hunting transmission goes through me like fingernails on a chalkboard, it might be my single biggest peeve in any car.

Danny Shields (Forum Supporter)
Danny Shields (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
8/30/22 5:40 p.m.

+1 for the Grand Caravan.  We put over 200K on a 2002 Caravan and bought a new 2017 Grand Caravan SE to replace it. No problems so far, over the first 60K. Ours is an SE with Stow n' Go third row and removable second row seat, because that is more comfortable for adults. The second-row Stow n' Go compartments are still there below the floor. The Dodge logs more miles every year than all our other vehicles put together, because it is just so useful.  

It is no Porsche, but it is roomy, comfortable, and great for logging miles in traffic.

Caravan Dan the Minivan Man

Ian F (Forum Supporter)
Ian F (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
8/30/22 5:51 p.m.

I agree with the sentiment of buying the newest GC you can afford.  I currently have a 2017 GT model that replaced a 2008 model. I have camped in both. The 2017 is a nicer place to spend long hours in the driver's seat.  I've put 77K miles on it since buying it in the Summer of 2018. 

One "plus" the GC has over other brands is the sheer number of them made.  Chrysler made hundreds of thousands of them.  This means parts are cheap and readily available. It also means any local mechanic has probably worked on hundreds of them for years and can do any repair quickly (and sometimes cheaply). 

I usually get in the low-mid 20's in mixed driving.

Recently, I did a road trip with a friend and his Suburban.  I did most of the driving and bought the gas for it (long story).  For what it is, mileage isn't bad, but it was still in the low-mid teens for what was almost an entirely highway drive.  It was comfortable to drive, but it also helped that I have aged into a fairly sedate middle aged driver.  I'm perfectly happy sitting in the right lane with the CC set at a few MPH above the speed limit. 

solfly Dork
8/30/22 7:41 p.m.


I like the micro trailer suggestion, like a teardrop, but they're pricey for what you get, unless you make one. If you don't want to do a trailer, then minivan>>>full size SUV for your use case.

I once drove a GC filled with people and stuff from the Mid Atlantic to MN and back . It was lovely on mid-western superslabs, comfortable, quiet and tracked great, but annoying everywhere else. Throttle mapping, transmission shift strategy, and brake response were just not right. Go rent one, and as recommend above, load it up and take it on a trip and see what you think. Do the same thing with a Sienna. Skip the Honda.

dj06482 (Forum Supporter)
dj06482 (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UltraDork
8/30/22 10:01 p.m.

Grand Caravan or.a Sienna would be my first choices. I've owned two Odysseys (an '05 and a '17), I'd recommend an aftermarket transmission cooler, regular ATF fluid changes, and AirLift rear airbags that go inside the rear springs if you were going to choose it over the other options. It's also important to bed in the brakes properly after you change them out. If you don't, they'll likely warp.

I'm not a huge fan of the Honda AT transmissions in the Odyssey, I feel that the Odyssey is geared slightly too high for highway driving. I get better mileage at 75MPH than 70MPH because there is more torque available at 75MPH to get you over the hills. If you take the hills at 70MPH, it loses speed, downshifts and mileage suffers.

RaabTheSaab New Reader
8/30/22 11:12 p.m.

These are great suggestions so far. I'm not opposed to keeping the Highlander and adding a small trailer, I'm just considering other options. I suspect that even a basic trailer conversion project is subject to scope creep. 

AAZCD-Jon (Forum Supporter)
AAZCD-Jon (Forum Supporter) SuperDork
8/30/22 11:33 p.m.
twowheeled Reader
8/31/22 9:20 a.m.
AAZCD-Jon (Forum Supporter) said:

Not sure if street legal: https://www.facebook.com/marketplace/item/382176807409300

May be an image of outdoors and text that says 'O SPACE'

so many built in towel racks

eastsideTim UltimaDork
8/31/22 9:31 a.m.

I'm with the others on Grand Caravan/Sienna.  May be a good to see how much nicer of a Caravan you can get for the same money as an older Sienna.  Either one will have the advantage of being common enough most repair shops will have experience working on them.

For SUVs, I was (and still am sort of) looking at Tahoes/Yukons, but that is just for one person to camp in.  I think to get the usable interior space a minivan with the seats removed has, you'd need to be looking at something Suburban-sized.  But, if your future travel plans involve going on something rougher than gravel roads, an SUV might be a good idea.

frenchyd GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
8/31/22 9:59 a.m.

In reply to RaabTheSaab :

Comfort, space,  and reliability for a modest price I'd go Cadillac SUV   Newish ones will return a sold 20+ mpg.   Depending on your throttle foot they can approach or exceed what most Imports achieve . 
   They can be fixed anyplace a Chevy/GMC  can.  ( and cheaper than the Caddy dealer ) if you've been paying Toyota prices for parts and service  you'll appreciate  the more modest Chevy prices. Because that's what they are underneath. But because they are Cadillac they depreciate more then their their Chevy/GMC counterparts do.  Once they get 10 years old + it's like they go over a cliff resale wise. $10,000 should get you a really solid nice one. 
     350,000 miles is pretty easy for them.  I've known people who get nearly double that without going into the expensive mechanical bits.  My own experience  with that power train combination confirms that. 

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